The Ninth Convention’s Paper to the Rye House Plotters, May, 1683 #History #Scotland
On 8 May, 1683, the ninth convention of the United Societies held in secret in Edinburgh sent a paper to the ‘Confederators’, a group of English radical Whigs behind a series of insurrectionary and assassination plots tht are commonly known as the Rye House Plots.
The paper is notable for the light it sheds on the divisive debates between the moderate and militant Scottish presbyterian factions that were both involved in discussions with the plotters in London.
It is also remarkable for its admission that the Society people had taken the very radical step of their convention assuming the powers of the Nation and Parliament. According to the paper, the moderate detractors of the Societies were ‘pleased to say that we assume the legislative powers of the nation, and the power of Parliament to us’. The paper sought to explain that by replying that ‘We declare, all that have done, or are doing in that kind, is but merely to make our testimony and procedure against the present course of affairs more legal and strong’.
The paper was later printed in Michael Shields, Faithful Contendings Displayed, p67-71.
‘The Reasons of the sufferings and actings of the true (though greatly reproached, and persecuted) presbyterian, Anti-Prelatick, Anti-Erastian Party in Scotland.
We cannot but sadly regret in the very entry, the occasions of such vindications, as we are forced to make in this critical age, wherein for the most part, all true principles of government and religion are like to be overturned: And when any are contending for these, they are immediately branded as enemies to government and magistracy, one of the most excellent ordinances of God, when kept within due bounds and limits set down by him in his word; and when use of for the ends proposed therein. This we say we have reason to regret, yet ought not to discourage any, or deter them from that which we are bound unto; although many have been whedled out of both reason and religion, yet this makes us put pen to paper, that thereby these who are honestly principled as to both, may be strengthened, and we vindicated: So that when the grounds are laid down, and procedures laid to the rule, it may be seen whose courses are most aberrant, or differing therefrom.
Therefore we shall touch upon some of these heads which are most carped at by our enemies.
1st, The first grand business is the casting off the Tyrant’s authority, and power to middle therewith, and what length we stretch that power: As for the manner of doing thereof, it is narrated in the Lanerk Declaration, so we shall not touch thereon, but as a preamble shall narrate somewhat of the grounds upon which we walked. First, it is an undoubted principle amongst all state-men, that in a general defection, these who in that nation adheres closest to the ancient laws, liberties, and constitutions, are the truest and most freeborn subjects; for laws being made for the government of the whole nation, every member within the same, prince, people are equally obliged thereto, and in all breaches upon either hand recourse must be had to the rule. This is not denied by any sound states-men, and contradicted by none, Barclay and other court Parasites excepted: Yea it is so clear, that nature taught Heathens themselves, from whom we have our civil laws, that they never gave their princes more, yea the princes themselves required no more, but thought it their greatest honour to be subject to the laws, as can be clearly seen in the whole body of the civil law. But why should we go thus far? (If it were not to answer such quibblers in their own coin) for if we look to the constitutions set down [>p69.] by God in his word, we will find all alongst that the laws are to be the supreme judge, whereby the actions of both magistrates and people are to be judged; and where magistrates and rulers walk contrary thereto, the opposing of them, and revolting from under them, are approven by God; and where they are not revolted from, nor testified against, but joined with, and homologate; we find at such times their sins charged upon the people, and the people plagued therefore.
This being considered, give sufficient ground to us in the most legal and public way possible; (that as our sin was public, our contrary testimony might also be public) this, we say, gave the occasion to us to testify against, resist, and reject the authority, the exercise of which was tyranny, oppression and usurpation, in matters civil and ecclesiastic, as we have done by our declarations and testimonies. But whereas some are pleased to say that we assume the legislative powers of the nation, and the power of Parliament to us.— We declare, all that have done, or are doing in that kind, is but merely to make our testimony and procedure against the present course of affairs more legal and strong; that as we have eminent and public hand in the sin, and setting up the idol of jealousy, so we may have an eminent and public hand in pulling of it down: And when it shall please the Lord to send us well-constitute judicatories, we shall desire to have, or assume no more but our privileges, in our place and stations, as free born subjects.
Secondly, As to the grounds of our not joining with ministers and professors, or others, who have made defection, we have much to say, which would be tedious, and rather the work of a volume, than of such a paper; but we think that they may be very easily reduced to this rule, which was our ancient rule all along, and our still to continue yet: When joining with persons in the exercise of worship or otherwise, implies a homologating of, or joining with the public sins whereof they are guilty, there we ought to foot a stand, and not join, because the joining is tainted with their guilt, and so sinful; for no sin ought to be joined with, but avoided: But where it does not homologate, nor can no-ways be [>p70.] tainted with the guilt, there we have freedom to join. But this we ought to retort upon the heads of our adversaries, for they are the separatists, and no we; for it is the offenders and not the offended, that only best deserve the name.
Thirdly, As to our making the work of Reformation, and particularly our covenants and late public declarations, and martyrs testimonies on scaffolds, a test, or mark whereby we may know one another, we esteem ourselves to have good ground so to do; for the work of reformation, and several steps thereof, from Popery to this day, as such a linked chain, that there are none that can disown the testimonies of our martyrs, either former or latter, (being considered, every one according to the particular times and seasons when, and dispensations under which they were given) but must certainly disown the whole; for it hath pleased the Lord to make their strain run all one way, and not cross to one another; whereby it may be evidently seen, that they have been all dictated by one spirit. Always hereby including some particular testimonies vitiate by [John] Gib and others, since there many be errors on the one hand as well as on the other: Those, we say, being excluded, we know nothing, nor desire to own nothing that is contrary to scripture and sound reason.
Fourthly, We know likewise, that it hath been scrupled at, our refusing to join issue and interest, or in arms with a malignant party, carrying on malignant designs; however under cunningly busked colours and pretexts, which when searched, are, and have been found out to be but meer cheating or betraying the true cause of God in the land, as we have by sad experience found and smarted for; for we never yet took in, or strove to connive at, or palliate that malignant interest, but the Lord showed evident marks against us: and they are so clearly confuted by the passage of Jehoshaphat, and many other passages in scripture, that we need not take great pains to strike that nail to the head; for our remonstrances, Mr Gillespie, and many others, have redd marches so well, that they have left nothing for us to do, but put our seals to what they have left on record: Neither are we looking for, or expecting an army all of saints, for there will be tares among the wheat, while the time of reaping come: But if we (after the [>p71.] Lord’s so eminently discharging) take the Canaanites into our bosoms, who have made thorns in our eyes, and scourges in our sides: If we (we say) shall confederate with these, and give them places of trust and office with us, whom he has so eminently appeared against, we cannot expect but he will whip us with taws of our own making, since we will not follow his method. And we desire to show all the lovers of Zion, that whosoever confederates with these men of blood and bloody practices, we have just ground to fear that the helpers and the holpen will fall together; and desire to testify against all such confederacies and associations, in the name of the once glorious church of Scotland, there being none of her principles, to take in men against whom the sword of justice should have free course. Therefore whatever shall be acted or done by such confederacies or associations, that no churches, neither foreign nor neighbouring, attribute or ascribe the same to the true church and nation of Scotland, whose laws both of church and state being so just, as they could not admit them to live, much less to rule or officiate, being men of such wicked practices, destructive not only to religion, but civil society.’ (Shields, FCD, 67-71.)
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